Not only is employee engagement important for individual satisfaction and psychological health, but it also leads to positive outcomes for the organization.

Have you ever had a job where you really felt engaged? Can you describe what made you feel that way? Engagement is one of those terms that’s difficult to define. What makes one person feel engaged at work is not going to be the same for another. What we do know is those who feel more engaged in the workplace are more satisfied with their job – and have better overall psychological health. 

Engagement is present in a work environment where workers enjoy and feel connected to their work, and where they feel motivated to do their job well. Worker engagement can be physical, emotional, and/or cognitive. 

  1. Physical engagement is based on the amount of exertion a worker puts into his or her job. Physically engaged workers view work as a source of energy. 
  2. Emotionally engaged workers have a positive job outlook and are passionate about their work. 
  3. Cognitively engaged workers devote more attention to their work and are absorbed in their job. 

Whatever the source, engaged workers feel connected to their work because they can relate to, and are committed to, the overall success and mission of their company. 

Engagement should be seen as a result of policies, practices, and procedures for the protection of workers’ psychological health and safety. Engagement is similar to, but is not to be mistaken for, job satisfaction, job involvement, organizational commitment, psychological empowerment, and intrinsic motivation. 

Why is Engagement Important in the Workplace?

Not only is employee engagement important for individual satisfaction and psychological health, but it also leads to positive outcomes for the organization. Research indicates that, for example, shareholder returns for companies with engaged workforces can be double that of the average company. Worker engagement is shown to increase customer satisfaction, task performance, morale, and motivation. It also enhances organizational citizenship behaviours – discretionary behaviours that are beneficial to the organization and are a matter of personal choice.

What happens when employees aren’t engaged?

The economic impact of disengaged workers is massive – with the bulk of the costs being related to productivity losses. In addition, disengaged workers can lead to greater economic impact from psychological and medical effects and related costs. A disengaged workforce is associated with higher rates of turnover, reduced efforts at work, as well as counterproductive workplace behaviours (e.g., withdrawal, conflict).

An organization with good engagement would be able to state that: 

  • workers enjoy their work; 
  • staff are willing to give extra effort at work if needed; 
  • workers describe work as an important part of who they are; 
  • team members are committed to the success of the organization; and, 
  • workers are proud of the work they do. 

How to Engage Employees at Work

Engagement is different for everyone, so there is no one way to improve engagement at work – but here are some ways you can consider approaching engagement in your organization:

  1. Foster an environment where workers are able to use their unique talents to the fullest. It can be helpful to tap into workers’ specific passions related to their work. 
  2. Recognize and appreciate those workers who are willing to ‘go the extra mile’ at work.
  3. Create a pleasant and welcoming work environment where workers feel comfortable. 
  4. Create a sense of community, as well as opportunities for socializing at work. This includes both formal team building and teamwork exercises – as well as informal gatherings, parties, lunches, and volunteering or fundraising activities. 
  5. Be proactive with monitoring engagement levels among staff. Ensure regular check-ins between leaders and direct reports, as this can provide the best opportunity to identify changes in engagement levels.
  6. Communicate your organizational mission, values and ideology to staff and the public. Ensure your team understands the core values that drive your workplace.
  7. Solicit input from workers on things that can be done to build their engagement at work. 

Final Thoughts on Engagement in the Workplace – Ongoing Improvement

It’s important to consider which groups within an organization may feel less engaged, as well as the potential reasons why particular individuals or groups feel less comfortable engaging in particular ways. It may be helpful to anonymously ask workers how engaged they feel in the work they’re doing, and what improvements the organization can make to help them feel more engaged. 

Engagement is psychosocial factor 10 from the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety (PH&S) in the Workplace (CAN/CSA-Z1003-13/BNQ 9700-803/2013 – Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace). For more information, see also Guarding Minds at Work (Samra et al.).